Optimize Your Perpetual Shopping Cart for the Holidays

I’ve started to see more and more articles about prepping your site, your marketing, and your conversion funnel for the 2012 Holiday Season, so I thought I’d post about Perpetual Shopping Carts – a crucial site experience for multi-item gift shoppers.

Clarifying Definitions

Let’s start with a few definitions, as I’ve experienced some confusion in the past regarding “Persistent Shopping Carts” versus “Perpetual Shopping Carts.” The best definitions I came across in my research are from the GetElastic blog way back in 2009.

Persistent Shopping Carts have become ubiquitous, and simply involve saving the contents of the shopping cart in a cookie on the prospect’s machine so that the potential order is “remembered” across multiple visits and even multiple different browsers. The only thing to think about in regards to the Holiday Season is how long your Persistent Cart is stored before expiring. Hint: 30 days minimum!

Perpetual Shopping Carts have become much more popular since 2009, but aren’t “universal,” and the user experience often differs greatly from site to site. They display the number of items in the cart and sub-total as a shopper navigates the site.

Many sites, including Amazon.com, have both Persistent and Perpetual Carts.

If you don’t have a Perpetual Shopping Cart on your eCommerce site, it should either be on your roadmap, or be under investigation as a possible feature to add. If you do have a Perpetual Shopping Cart, I bet there is opportunity to improve the user experience and the conversion rate if you read on to my tips later in this post.

Cons & Pros of Perpetual Shopping Carts (PSCs)

I started this section with “cons” before “pros” because I feel the pros greatly outweigh the cons. The only drawback I’ve ever found to a PSC is that if you tend to sell single item purchases (e.g. you sell software downloads and your average order quantity ≈1), you slow the purchaser down by adding a click to the conversion path. If there are other cons you’ve found, I’d love to have you comment.

In terms of pros, I feel that PSCs:

1) Encourage more purchases / higher conversion rate

2) Produce higher Average Order Value (AOV)

3) Provide better usability

4) Offer unique opportunities for x-selling

5) Provide a shopping experience that’s more like offline shopping

These five pros, along with the increasing popularity of PSCs industry-wide, should convince you to be looking into this type of cart if you don’t have it already.

 Measuring Your Perpetual Shopping Cart’s Performance

You can’t optimize what you can’t measure, so how should you be tracking and analyzing your PSC? Start by establishing Average Order Value and Multi-Item Purchases as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Both metrics should be reported and analyzed, and should be higher than sites without Perpetual Shopping Carts.

Another important step is to make sure you’re tracking the “add to cart” action as part of your funnel analysis. Since Perpetual Shopping Carts don’t necessarily generate a page view when an item is added, you may need to add additional code or configuration to include this step in your funnel reports. In Google Analytics, you could use virtual pageviews or event tracking to get the full picture of your PSC’s performance.

Optimizing Your PSC’s Performance

Test these 4 tips in order to make sure your PSC is converting as many customers, at the highest order value, as possible:

1) Make sure the notification/confirmation is overt – When a product is added to a Perpetual Shopping Cart, make sure the customer is 100% aware of what has happened. If they don’t get the feedback they’re expecting, they may abandon. The best way to do this is to employ a modal window. If you can’t do a modal popup interface, use other visual cues like color, placement, and animation to ensure that customers understand what has happened and what their options are.

2) Show subtotals – PSCs, while smaller than traditional shopping cart “pages,” still need to convey the critical information. In the case of a Holiday shopper purchasing gifts for multiple friends and family, subtotal is a crucial piece of information that is too often left out of the PSC interface.

3) Show thumbnails – Similar to #2, leaving thumbnail product images out of the PSC is a risk. Thumbnail imagery has been proven to help conversion in traditional cart pages, so it needs to be present, and doing the same persuasion work, in PSCs. The thumbnail size may need to be adjusted smaller for a PSC, but it still needs to be there reminding the prospect of the great product (or gift) they’ve picked out but not purchased yet.

4) Test cross-selling – Cross-selling is often missing from PSC designs and functionality, but it can be very compelling when the immediacy of adding something to the cart is coupled with relevant product or accessory suggestions. Again, there are space constraints with PSCs that make this a challenge, but that doesn’t mean you should shy away from increasing your revenue per shopper.


I believe PSCs will continue to be important in eCommerce, this Holiday 2012 shopping season, and beyond. If you don’t have a Perpetual Shopping Cart yet, I’ve provided a few bullets about why you should be investigating this conversion-boosting approach. If you already have a PSC, I’ve provided tips on how to measure and optimize what you’ve got as you head into peak season.

As always, comments (by humans) are welcome! 🙂

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